A Knight in Shining Armor or Don Quixote on Steroids?

GRAVITAS . . . . Fair and Brutal Opinion (Trapped by Facts)

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About Contributing Journalist Scott J. Graves in his own words

Scott J. Graves, Esq., B.S. Biology, M.S. Pharmacology, J.D. Law – Father, Born-and-Bred Gardnerien-American, Gardner Native of Acadien Heritage, Gardner High School Class of 1982, Gardner Citizen-Voter, Gardner Homeowner/Taxpayer, 30-year Gardner Business Owner, 30-year Gardner Lawyer, former 16-year Gardner City Councillor, former Gardner City Council President, and former Gardner City Solicitor and Head of the City of Gardner Law Department.

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Candor Realty Investment Group, LLC is based out of Lowell, Mass.  I spoke with the Manager of Candor, Jon Bombaci, in January.

We were interested in a company that was interested in the Gardner real estate and housing market.

Where literally every improvement or semblance of “development” in Gardner is either the rare construction of a single-family home, or a government-subsidized public project (funded by your Taxpayer dollars – while your government leaders call your money “grants” as if the money comes from Heaven as opposed to your own pockets), we noticed that Candor had a lot of interest in Gardner.  We had noticed that they were buying up many dilapidated multi-family structures.

Who dares comes to Gardner from the Outside, without any friends in high places and without the “Gardnerite” (or, “Townie”) designation?  Who is this brazen Outsider? Who is this intruder?  You dare come into Gardner without Government subsidies, and without ruling class imprimatur?  That takes some stones.

We first heard of Candor when I went to a Gardner Zoning Board of Appeal Meeting in January of this year.  Mr. Jon Bombaci (Candor’s Manager) had the floor.  He impressively fielded the ZBA’s inane and irrelevant questions, and then kindly (and inconspicuously) explained to the ZBA what the City’s zoning ordinance meant, and what the laws meant.

Mr. Bombaci did this masterfully.  He made it seem as if he was congratulating the ZBA for its erudition, and was merely accepting their airy platitudes as if they were gems of oracle-like wisdom.  Mr. Bombaci’s personality evinces a sober, professional, deferential, and down-to-earth manner.  He harbors some deep intellect, but comes across as a nice guy who simply wants to follow the rules, and do what’s best for everyone.

He was the consummate professional who clearly knew what he was talking about, but didn’t care about showing it off.  He is a person in control of the situation, but managing the room as if he’s about to serve the coffee.  A breath of fresh air in Gardner, to say the least.

That is how you get stuff done in municipalities like Gardner – little places where a little power inflates little heads with little reason, and very little objectivity. You need an affect-less guy like Mr. Bombaci to make things happen.

But, this is good news for the rest of us.  When an independent company like Candor Realty Investment comes along, who knows how to get things done in an otherwise politically-insulated government like Gardner’s, the result benefits the Citizens of Gardner.

You might be asking, how can someone do this who didn’t have a bunch of lawn signs to get elected in November?  Can it be?

It’s called competence, and it’s called having a plan. It’s called, “putting your money where your mouth is” – something no one at City Hall ever has to worry about.  No, this is the real world we are talking about.  This is the real world, where you must spend your own money, not the Taxpayers’ money, to invest in a place where no one else will invest.

For once, we can see, hear, and feel development.  We are talking about “real” development.  Not the “development” like the Mayor talks about – like tearing historic buildings down using public (your) money.  That’s not development.  We are talking about real development.  We are talking about using private money. That does not happen in Gardner.  Until now.

So, with Candor’s development efforts all around us, we aren’t seeing our Tax Money being spent by the Government on Government stuff.  For once.

What we do see are vacant buildings being put back on the City tax roll.  We see blighted and dilapidated buildings being fixed-up, renovated, and brought back to life in this city.  We see opportunities for our Citizens to have a place to rent, in a City where there are no places to rent.  We see a chance.  A chance for wandering people to settle down and have a decent home.

It’s a win-win situation for all of us.

But, we were interested in how Candor wins.

So, we asked them.  Mr. Bombaci told me that they have had “a lot of interest” in Gardner, and in Worcester County in general (Athol, Fitchburg, etc.).  Mr. Bombaci, in the same exact style that wins over the local powers-that-be (who seem to look at him as some quixotic and enigmatic charmer or savant), casually explained that “we targeted Gardner for a reason.”

That reason (there were actually more than one) was that real estate was relatively affordable in Gardner – when that is not the case in other parts of the Commonwealth east of us – and Gardner is a community in which “rental demand is high.”

In other words, people can’t rent housing units in Gardner because, well, there are none.

You might recall that the Gardner City Council recently shot down another developer’s efforts to build 123 brand-new housing units off of Parker Street in the heart of the City.  The City Planning Board and the Gardner City Council crushed it like a grape.  In doing so, the City Council dashed all hopes for lower-to-middle-class families in this City to have nice homes to rent.

The City Council didn’t want “Section 8” people in that neighborhood (and, remarkably, used “increased traffic” as its unstated excuse, despite a traffic study to the contrary – as if the invention of the combustible-engined motor car is something radically sprung upon us from out-of-the-blue).

Luckily for us, the City Council couldn’t stop Candor.

So, when the City Council crushes the hopes of families to rent homes here in Gardner, where do the people go in Gardner to rent a nice place to live?  The City Council’s answer: nowhere.  The message: leave.

Well, Candor stepped up to change that dismal outlook in this City.

Though Candor hails from the Lowell and Haverhill area (they have 150 housing units in Lowell alone – and are working on acquiring 150 more), they see much potential for private developers like themselves in towns like Gardner (Gardner is really a “town” pretending to be a “city” simply by virtue of adopting a Plan B form of city government in 1923 – which we did when we had 77 furniture factories of varying sizes, causing our then presciently-challenged government leaders to predict that Gardner’s flagrant destiny of becoming the next Worcester, or Boston could not be resisted, so a “city” we became (on paper).  It went downhill from there, and we are still-a-rolling with gravity on our side.

But, the proof of Candor’s “interest” is already baked in the cake. When I spoke with Mr. Bombaci in January, Candor owned, or was under contract for, 49 housing units in the City of Gardner.  In a word, that is incredible – literally unprecedented since the days of a young Leo LaChance post-WWII.  But, Candor is now up to 61 in Gardner (as of late March 2022), and still increasing its portfolio here in Gardner.

Why?

Apart from the other reasons we already mentioned, the other reasons given by Mr. Bombaci for his interest in Gardner were the existence of Route 2 which divides Gardner in two, its central location in the Commonwealth, and the fact that the potential rental income balances out the cost of the improvements Candor makes to the properties they purchase.

Candor doesn’t just come in and slap a coat of paint on the house, brace the falling porch with a nailed-in cross board, and plant a few marigolds at the foundation to hide the cracks.

Candor carefully goes through the entire structure, and spends upwards of $500,000 (and usually much more) fixing up the homes they buy (complete with brand-new kitchens, windows, roof, floors, etc.).  The whole kit-and-caboodle, as we used to say.

For Candor, they see it as a great business investment – and they are convinced that their rental income will prove out to be profitable in this desert of an economic climate and ecosystem here in Gardner, Mass.  Either they are alchemists, or very shrewd real estate gurus.  Either way, it sounds like a win-win situation for all of us.

Candor does things the right way. For example, they took a long-empty three-family on Pine Street that was only fit for rats, hobos, and the wrecking ball, and went to work turning it into a sturdy and safe structure – and, most importantly, created a nice and aesthetically-pleasing home for families to live in.  That requires the expenditure of a lot of money – and Candor will end up spending more than $600,000 on one building like that – to create something nice for humans to live in.  As I said, they know what they are doing. Time will tell.

Candor creates beautiful rental units that families can be proud to live in.  Imagine that? What a concept. Who knew?

For the Citizens, Candor is not just expanding the living space opportunities for our people who cannot afford to buy their own home (it being the case that approximately 90% of Gardner citizens do not qualify with lenders to purchase their own home), they are putting these wasteland eyesores back on the Tax Roll – generating revenue for the City.

Most of all, this improves our neighborhoods.  This increases the real estate values of the neighbors’ homes. This gets rid of the bad news, the riff-raff, the trouble-makers, the vagrants and transients (don’t get me wrong, I like vagrants and transients as much as the virtuous do, and they have to go somewhere – but we hope they go somewhere outside the limits of Gardner).

Mr. Bombaci followed up with me at the end of March, when Candor had increased its units in Gardner from 49 to 61.  Mr. Bombaci stated: “we are just trying to be good stewards to our residents, and expand (our) portfolio.”

Candor has since acquired commercial buildings Downtown. These include beloved structures with historic and sentimental value to Gardner’s Boomers (an appreciation that all Gardnerians should share).  In this context, Candor play even more ebulliently the knight in shining armor – for without them coming into to save the day, all of these splendid buildings will meet the Mayor’s favorite economic development tool – the wrecking ball.

Candor is a company that is on a mission.  They know what they are doing.  And they are doing it in Gardner.  It sounds good for the Citizens of Gardner.  Time will tell, of course.

But one thing is for sure: Candor is a company that is not satisfied with the status quo.  I know . . . you are all saying to yourselves: “all this sounds so, I don’t know, un-Gardner-like.”  We agree.  And, that’s good.

For you self-identified “optimists” out there (you know who you are), you don’t have to fake too much on this one to look excited – it’s real.  It’s called “development” in the raw – real development.  It’s also called winning.

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